Maquoketa Caves State Park is located near Maquoketa, Iowa in the east central part of the state.
I’d heard of this park for quite a while before I finally ventured in that direction. The park has a good number of caves varying in size from small crawl spaces to large holes in the earth. There isn’t anything on a grandiose scale that one could get lost in, but it was still fun and enjoyable to walk through the bigger ones and watch the kids crawl around in the small ones. As for hiking, there is a decent little trail system connecting all of the caves together.
First thing first, the bats. Bats really like caves (ask Batman), and a big concern for the health of the bat population is White Nose Syndrome. Before you are allowed to walk around the caves you must first listen to information about reducing the spread of White Nose Syndrome with such things as not wearing the same clothes in different cave systems for 5 years.
This is one of the more busy parks that I’ve been to, with parking that felt limited. You park just off the main entrance road in the middle of the park by the nature center where you’ll get your brief. From there you cross the road and head down some stair into a ravine where all of the caves are located. The main cave is located at the bottom of these initial stair and is pretty big. It is more of a natural tunnel honestly, and they have poured a sidewalk down the middle of it, (probably to get you above the constantly flowing water in it) with some overhead lighting. This is the only cave in the park treated that way. About halfway through there is one small little cave that breaks off along the path and is a tight squeeze. We found that quite a few people were crawling through this one which end in an opening about 7-8 feet above the ground near the exit of the large “tunnel.” We opted not to drop from the hole like some younger kids did, so back-tracking was interesting in the tight space with other park goers also curiously trying to find where it leads.
Once we exited the “tunnel” we were met with well up-kept trails that wandered throughout the park. There were a good number of stairs scattered about the heavily wooded park, with a few steep climbs. At first the kids were disinterested with the idea of being pulled away from their electronics, but they really started to open up once we got out into the more open areas and they were allowed to crawl around in various caves. It got to the point where they were the explores and we weren’t even around anymore.
Overall a very enjoyable experience. The website suggests they have 6 miles of trails in the park, but I feel we covered the park pretty well and only came to about 3 miles. As for pace, throw out any numbers you use to track and estimate your times. This style of exploring isn’t about covering miles. We spent 3 hours to cover the 3 miles, but you could take more or less depending on how wrapped up you get in your exploration. Nothing was too challenging for us, although some of the non-stair climbs might be a little hard for those that might need to work on their conditioning. Aside from the standard water, snack, and map; I would definitely recommend wearing clothes you are willing to get pretty dirty, a headlamp, shoes/boots that can handle rocky terrain, and some gloves like Mechanics brand that are thin yet protective and breathable.
Once again, a very fun little park that in the course of typing this up has reminded me how much I enjoyed it. I need to get it on the list for a return visit. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Thanks for reading!